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Russia’s River Villages: Water Quality in Yakutia

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These lovely traditional Yakut dancers greeted us in Zhigansk. (Photo by Mary Marshall)

Jon Waterhouse and Mary Marshall take the Network of Indigenous Knowledge (NIK) and its citizen-science effort to monitor water health deep into Russia. Along the way, amid sanctions and tension between the U.S. and Russia, they find a more peaceful journey and more friends than they ever imagined.

The Network of Indigenous Knowledge (NIK) is about connecting people who are, by nature and place, environmental stewards. When the 70 tribes and First Nations of the Yukon River came together for the sake of their shared resource, the Yukon Watershed, it was soon evident that the model they had created could be shared with others living within watersheds around the globe. Now, we seek to bring NIK to the indigenous peoples of Yakutia in eastern Russia.

By learning about and documenting the detailed science of their various environments, connecting with one another and discovering the similarities in their different cultures, indigenous peoples are significantly empowered to set realistic goals for their future generations—all based on the water they share, and their treatment of that water. In the process, these groups who have historically had no voice can now tell the stories of who they are in their own words. They also own the scientific data they collect, free to share it with whomever they choose.

Today, concerns over water health are paramount around the world and that’s why NIK is teaming up with teachers and students in their classrooms, with scholars representing a plethora of fields and with scientists and technologists in their labs. We have no restrictions. We see no borders. All concerned with their water are welcome to take part in NIK. Providing the necessary equipment and training for remote communities who haven’t the means to gather and document local scientific and historical data on their own is what NIK is all about.

With that, we’re off to Russia! Join us for part two, where our unlikely journey begins!

Next: A Tale of Two Countries

Read More by Jon Waterhouse